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Cold Process Soap Making: Lye Safety Rules

I have a confession to make.  Years ago, when I first started learning about soap making, I put off making that first batch because I was scared to death of lye.

When I finally built up the courage to try it, I covered the entire kitchen in newspaper.  I opened every window (because I heard lye gives off deadly fumes).  I wore a long, heavy duty lab coat over my long-sleeved shirt and pants, rubber gloves that went up to my elbows and goggles I had snatched from the garage.

I was so certain that a cloud of noxious fumes was going to poison everyone in my house, that the lye water was going to melt my containers and quite possibly burst into flames.

But, by the time I finished my first batch, I realized that it wasn't so bad.  And I was ready to make my second batch!

Of course, lye is caustic and has to be handled carefully.  But as long as you use common sense, and follow these safety rules, you'll be just fine.

Use only 100% lye
It has to say 100% lye right on the package.  If it doesn't, don't use it.  No exceptions.

I use Rooto brand lye.  You can get it at Ace Hardware for less than $4.00.

Wear gloves
The lye water can burn you if you're not careful.  Rubber gloves are a good idea.  Goggles are too, if you're worried about lye getting in your eyes.  If you do get some lye or fresh soap on your bare skin, rinse really well with plain water, douse with white vinegar, then rinse with water again.    

Always pour lye into water, NEVER the other way around
Pour your lye into your water.  Never pour water into a container containing lye, otherwise it can explode out of the container.  This is probably the MOST IMPORTANT safety rule!

Never use aluminum
Anything that will come in contact with the lye water or soap can't be aluminum, because it reacts negatively to the soap.   Use stainless steel pots, rubber spoons, wooden molds, just no aluminum.

Use heat-safe containers
When you add the lye to your water, it will get really hot, nearly boiling.  Make sure your lye water container can handle the heat without melting.  Try filling it with plain boiling water first, just to check for melting or warping. 

Use cold water
 Because lye heats the water so drastically, make sure you start off with cool water.  If your water is too warm, you can end up with water well past the boiling point. 

Ice your lye water container
While you're at it, put your lye water container into a cold water bath.  I usually just fill the sink half-full with water, throw in some ice cubes and let my lye water container sit in this.  This isn't technically a safety rule, but it sure makes working with the lye water much nicer.  It helps tame the fumes and helps cool the lye water down much more quickly, so you can get on with making soap.

So now get on with making some soap!  

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